Edgar Rodriguez wouldn't allow me to order recently at wHoly Chicken in York.
He said 99 percent of his customers don't use the menu.
He decides for them.
Normally, I'd never agree to this. I'm so picky - borderline paranoid - at restaurants, usually because I'm looking for healthy options. I haven't ordered anything deep-fried in five-plus years.
But I know Rodriguez and the type of food he makes. I wrote a story about his restaurant for the York Daily Record about a year ago.
The Latin-American and Caribbean food is fresh, and the majority of the menu is healthy. He asked if I had any allergies and if I liked spicy food. No to allergies and yes to spice. I told him the meal couldn't cost more than $10.
About 10 minutes later, he returned with a plate - a mound of steamed yellow rice surrounded by meaty prawns and mandarin oranges on a bed of iceberg lettuce, all drizzled with homemade salsa, and wHoly beans on the side.
It looked and tasted delicious, complex with flavors of sweet fruit, cilantro, hot sauce and lemon juice.
Although I know a lot about Rodriguez from writing about his restaurant - which he also considers his mission as a Christian - he doesn't know much about me. He later said that when people walk in his restaurant, he discerns through God what meal to prepare for them.
He opened the restaurant in November 2008 after quitting his job as a technical manager at a third-party chemical laboratory and abandoning a lavish lifestyle. He brings in kids to help in exchange for food and works with recovering addicts. He said he aims to sustain people with a good meal and a side of love.
"I display God's love more than words," said the 49-year-old Jacobus resident.
I've seen dozens of customers walk into his small shop with warm smiles. He returns the gesture with a constant air of calmness.
Kristen Henriques of New Hampshire recently dined there with her daughter Kate, friend Elizabeth Gray of York and her
Kate and Lauren, both 12, sat across from each other, sharing ear buds connected to an iPod sipping cans of Crush. Rodriguez brought them four wHoly Chicken Platters.
Henriques said she met Rodriguez at church. She moved to New Hampshire about two years ago and always stops at wHoly Chicken when visiting York.
"I can't come to York without coming to wHoly chicken," she said.
Rodriguez's mission has grown in the past two and a half years. He cooks with kids at the Youth Development Center every Monday. He started the WC Rapha Project, an organization that aims to spread Christianity and help people in physical and spiritual need, and he's garnered more community support.
I first learned about Rodriguez after reading a brief in the YDR about how he planned to hand out 500 free wHoly Chicken Platters for Thanksgiving in 2009. He thanked the community at a York City Council meeting for giving his restaurant wings in its first year and said he was filled with joy. In 2010, he gave away 1,005 meals. This year, he aims to give away 1,500.
What kind of person thanks a community by giving away hundreds of free chickens?
I'm glad I took the time to find out.
Cheap Eats profiles local restaurants with meals for less than $10. Suggestions are welcome. Reach Leigh Zaleski at 771-2101, email@example.com.
If you go
LOCATION: wHoly Chicken, 320 E. Philadelphia St. in York
CUISINE: Latin-American and Caribbean
LEIGH'S PICK: Shrimp ceviche ($9.25)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday
PRICE RANGE: $1 to $10.99
ACCEPTS: Cash, Mastercard, Visa
KID'S MENU: Yes
DETAILS: Call 854-5424